This time of year, most of the waterbirds whose songs we've savored over the summer months have long since left for warmer waters. Loons -- one of my favorite birds of summer -- have vacated Vermont to head to the ocean waters of the lower New England coast.
Watch a video of the loon's release!
Well, except for one particular young loon I came upon Christmas Eve. I had received a call from Poultney on the 24th that a loon was stumbling through the snow in a person's yard. "It couldn't be," I thought to myself. But sure enough, a VINS volunteer picked up the struggling bird and brought it to my home that night. It was indeed a loon. And a huge one at that!
Loons, if they accidentally land on a surface (someone's lawn, a parking lot, etc.), cannot take off for flight. Their bodies are designed so that they can take off to fly from water, and from water only. Many loons become "grounded" when they land on the ground, and must be carried to water so they can fly.
On Christmas morning, I brought the loon to work with me and examined him with the help of a VINS volunteer. I was happy to find this juvenile loon quite healthy: no fractures, no parasites, no emaciation, no feather damage, no head trauma. This young bird was the picture of health -- he had just been grounded, and now needs to fly himself down south before the rivers freeze here in Vermont! Many first-year birds (meaning born this spring) have a tough time learning the ropes of survival. Hunting, fishing, migration and avoiding predators -- while instinctual to a degree -- are skills perfected over time. Many first-years aren't skilled enough to make it to their second year alive. And I believe that's what was going on with this loon.
So later that day, me and four VINS volunteers (who graciously helped me with my animal care duties on the holiday) went down to a large opening on the Connecticut River, and bid this loon farewell. See our video. He swam off well, and we wish him the best of luck in migration.